Category Archives: Language

Origin of “Penny Wise and Pound Foolish,” and Some of History’s Other Most Insightful Quotes about Money

Andy L. asks: Who first said “penny wise and a pound foolish”? The person credited with coining the phrase, “penny wise and pound foolish,” Robert Burton, also said about writers, “They lard their lean books with the fat of others’ works,” and “We can say nothing but what hath been said.” So, with Robert Burton’s insight in mind, here’s a […]

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Did English Speakers Really Not Use Contractions in the 19th Century as Depicted in True Grit?

Karl A. asks: In the movie True Grit, they don’t use contractions. Is it true that people back then didn’t use them? Won’t, don’t, wouldn’t, isn’t and even ain’t- where would we be without our contractions? Prevalent in spoken English and increasingly accepted in written pieces, contractions enable brevity and make written works more accessible and friendly. Contractions in some […]

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Why We Call Certain Types of Threats “Blackmail”, and The Origin of the Lesser Known “Buttockmail”

Karl M. asks: Why is it called blackmail when you threaten to reveal something about someone if they don’t give you money? “Blackmail” has its roots in the early 16th century, first used by English farmers living on the England/Scotland border. It derives from the Middle English word “male” which itself is thought to derive from the Old English word […]

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Why Books are Called Books

Jon asks: Why are books called that? “A portable volume consisting of a series of written, printed, or illustrated pages bound together,” the word for book (or variously booke, bokis, boke and boc) has been around for as long as the English language. Early Origins According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED),[1] the Old English word boc was cognate with […]

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